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How IoT will help bridge the digital divide in Africa

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How IoT will help bridge the digital divide in Africa
William Mzimba, Chief Executive of Vodacom Business.

Digital adoption throughout the Africa continent has been a raging topic for years. More so when faced with stats detailing the limited access some people across the continent have to digital tools.

For example, only 25% of residents in the Eastern Cape’s rural communities use the internet, compared with over 75% in Gauteng and Cape Town. Similarly, Mpumalanga, the North West, and the Northern Cape lag behind with internet penetration figures in those provinces at 26.5%, 32.1% and 32.9% respectively. These figures were revealed by World Wide Worx and Dark Fibre Africa in 2017.

That said, the Internet of Things (IoT) has proven to be a key enabler in empowering African economies to play their part in connecting the continent to the rest of the globe.

The Internet of Things has the undeniable power to not only connect, but to also allow African economies to leapfrog developed markets. IoT places the continent’s economies in the driver’s seat and opening the way to digitally transform Africa’s various industries and successfully introducing new industries that will contribute to the growth of the continent. These capabilities are important, as they have the power to set the continent’s wheels of transformation into motion, essentially facilitating the shift from an importer of goods and services to becoming an exporter to the globe.

Although Africa lacks the necessary infrastructure to be considered as a formidable contender, and digital leader on the global stage, IoT will give the continent the platform it needs to gain that competitive edge. Africa still struggles to provide access to basic services, such as healthcare and education. Additionally, the time and investment required to transform based on legacy approach is simply not sustainable. IoT, in providing a solve for these shortcomings, has the power to help Africa skip the existing linear approach, and aid in achieving success over a shorter time period with a lower input investment cost.

When utilised by key ecosystem players, we soon begin to realise how IoT-based projects are able to disrupt traditional patterns. For example, Africa has massive arable land that will drive accelerated economic growth through the use of technologies such as precision agriculture. Intitiatives such as these will disrupt the current traditional model and potentially position the African continent as a competitive agriculture exporter to the world.

In order for us to enable industries to transform, we must facilitate IoT services and solutions that are executable in a sustainable way, in order to successfully cause disruption. Optimal disruption, as the IoT ecosystem scales, will be achieved through increased focus on applying intelligent digital tools within key African sectors and industries.

This shift will significantly change the nature of work, especially in mining, manufacturing and heavy industry sectors, as it will become possible to have truly automated plants and factories. This aspect of transformation will bring us closer to creating smarter ways of working and optimisation for various industries.

The value chain collaboration will drive disruption as more and more players start to build an open ecosystem that will enable shared value creation. Early adopters of IoT, with their sights set on disrupting their business models, are going to lead the race in driving disruption.

The Internet of Things will play a key role in optimising the public infrastructure spend, which is a key foundation to driving future economic growth. Governments should, therefore, take the lead on leveraging the technology to drive basic services and necessary infrastructure. We’re already seeing the early signs of this in certain countries, which is encouraging, especially in the health and agriculture sectors respectively.

Government and business have a role to play in this area, and they both need to drive this agenda hard. Public-private partnerships are emerging, and they are going to be instrumental in driving aggressive economic growth throughout the continent. Recently in South Africa, the government has driven an investment summit that resulted in accelerated funding from the private sector. With this in mind, our focus should be on IoT and the key role this digital platform will play as more IoT-ready infrastructure is rolled out to ensure competitiveness, on a global scale.

By William Mzimba, Vodacom Chief officer at Vodacom Group

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